Photo by Dave Gershgorn
Team working on $35-million project used jacks to fix tilting bridge piers on I-495 in Wilmington, Del.

Nick Hetrick was AECOM's project manager on a Milford, Del., highway interchange job when he got an urgent call from his boss: A Delaware Dept. of Transportation crew on June 2 had verified an engineer's report that piers supporting an interstate bridge in Wilmington had tilted. Knowing emergency repairs were needed, DelDOT shut the busy bridge. After DelDOT and AECOM, its designer, determined the job's scope, AECOM Vice President Bruce Kay wanted Hetrick to be a point man for the firm.


"[Kay] called me up that morning and basically said, 'How soon can you get here?" Hetrick says. "And so I threw everything in my field office into a cardboard box, got in my truck and drove up there and started what would be six months of a lot of fun."


Also a ton of work. "It was shocking the amount that bridge was leaning," Hetrick says. DelDOT said four of the bridge's 37 piers were out of alignment by up to 4%. "The [state] secretary of transportation said, 'Whatever it takes, work until this bridge is open.' "

DelDOT thought subsurface pressure from a large mound of dirt next to the bridge caused the tilt. Officials set a tight deadline, aiming to get the bridge partly reopened by Labor Day. As the clock ticked, Hetrick, 34, put in up to 120-hour, seven-day weeks, leaving little time for his baby girl, born in April. "My wife would send me pictures of my daughter just to remind me that I was a father," he jokes.

A declared state of emergency prompted use of force account. That meant Hetrick, as construction manager/resident engineer, had to carefully manage and track more than $1 million a week in labor, materials and equipment. His dedication in helping to keep the complex job on track quickly caught DelDOT senior engineers' attention."Nobody sacrificed more than Nick," says Barry Benton, DelDOT assistant director of bridges. "He was just extremely vital to the success of this project and the fact that this project was done over a month ahead of schedule."

The team beat the $35-million project's deadline. Southbound lanes reopened on July 31, a month early; northbound lanes took another month. The bridge was fully operational in early September, just before Labor Day weekend. Hetrick has since left AECOM. In December, he joined R.E. Pierson Construction Co., Pilesgrove, N.J., as project engineer on an upgrade of the Betsy Ross Bridge across the Delaware River.